‘Strong economy, good governance will eradicate poverty in Nigeria’
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) talks, sleeps and dines activism, which has been running in his blood since childhood. Compassionate and constantly putting the nation’s first, at the just- concluded 2019 Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., United States of America, the two international bodies held a five-day policy dialogue sessions with Civil Society Organizations where they exchanged views on a wide range of issues affecting humanity and nations. Rafsanjani shared his experience at the meetings with journalists in Lagos, which include subsidy removal, illicit cash flow, economic growth and elimination of poverty
What is your view on the projection of the Nigerian economy by the World Bank/IMF?
It is very disturbing to see the World Bank analysis of Nigeria’s economy. It is also very clear that because of the absence of a sound economic team, that is why we are not actually making the necessary progress in terms of consolidating and strengthening our economy in Nigeria. Therefore, it is not surprising given the fact that Nigeria has not made appreciable progress in terms of diversification of economy, in terms of effective economic management, which is as a result of sound policy or legislative framework that would deal with the economy particularly the oil and gas sector. You would recall that we have been advocating for the Nigerian government to ensure that we have Petroleum Industry Law passed in the country, which has been languishing in the National Assembly.
It would have helped to ensure the economy is strengthened, would have eliminated corruption, duplication of responsibilities as well as inefficiency. The government is yet to do that. Secondly, the non-oil sector has not been consciously developed in a way that will help drive the economy. You have so many areas that we as a nation is not utilising very well. That is why we have found ourselves in Zero Economic Stagnation which the World Bank has rated us. And besides the World Bank, there are other institutions that have warned Nigerian government in terms of ensuring that it should have been more focused and adopt a more productive way of improving the economy because once the economy is not rolling well, definitely, the issue of poverty, employment will be affected.
What is your view on comments raised about Nigeria particularly on IMF advice for subsidy removal? According to IMF Chief, Ms. Largade, the country in the last four years has spent over N5 trillion which could have been channeled towards amenities such as health, education and infrastructure on subsidy?
Nigeria should have done away with the subsidy long time ago. The present administration promised to stop paying subsidy because they discovered at that time that it is a scam, it is a fraud and nothing is being subsidised. Unfortunately, we have not seen that commitment being fulfilled by the government. The government is spending a lot of money on subsidy. For me and many Nigerians, the problem is not about subsidy, the problem is about corruption, it is about inefficiency in the management of so called subsidy because once some people imported petroleum to Nigeria, they claimed to have brought certain amount of tonnes of petroleum which is not being verified or authenticated and yet they get their payment. That is why the problem is.
Had it been the government had eliminated where this fraud is we would not be talking about it. And if government had taken steps to ensure that the refineries are working, you would not be talking about subsidy. It is funny that Nigeria as an oil producing country has to be spending that much to import petroleum for its citizens’ consumption. If we are able to fix our refineries and make them efficient, and effective, the question of subsidy would have been eliminated.
The issue of illicit financial flow and how it can be tackled also came up. What is your view on this because it has become a recurring decimal year in year out?
The illicit financial flow is a very serious issue because in the region, Nigeria accounts for over 70 per cent of the illicit financial flow in West Africa and this is an alarming rate. It has not stopped. It is still happening, therefore, there is no way a nation can have a vibrant and productive financial system once people are deliberately and consciously siphoning public funds abroad. I think government’s anti-corruption agencies should intensify efforts to block these leakages and we must make sure that people that are found guilty or caught in the act are interrogated and prosecuted. And the refunded money can be injected back into the economy so the issues of poverty and employment can be reduced.
Also during the meetings, there was a comment by economic experts that poverty is like a time bomb ready to explode…
We don’t have to wait until 2030 because poverty has already exploded in Nigeria when you have a large percentage of the population that is living in abject poverty and cannot afford decent living. They cannot afford education and so on they are already in abject poverty and that is why you see a lot of crises going on in Nigeria because people are already in poverty orchestrated by corrupt public officials coupled with lack of government planning to come up with programmes that would deal with poverty. For me, expansion of economic base that would encourage diversification, more investment from local and international investors that would help create jobs that would address the issue of unemployment is very imperative. This is the reason why IMF is projecting abject poverty or extreme poverty by 2030. A lot of Nigerian youths are idle, they cannot feed themselves and you need to go round as see how poverty is walking naked.
How do you think all the issues raised can be addressed and tackled?
As said earlier, a sound economic team being led by committed, knowledgeable personnel that understand global economic framework should be put in place. Secondly, government must eliminate wastage and shun corrupt officials. Government must consolidate easy ways of doing business in Nigeria so that there would be business and idle hands can find something to do because, in the past, unfavourable environment has hindered many investors from investing in Nigeria. There is no strong legislation that can protect their investments as a result of corruption and uncertainty in the direction. Government must create more economic diversity instead of relying on oil and gas sector…
Cut in…There is the claim by the FG that Nigeria has achieved so much in the area of agriculture. Do you agree with that?
Like you said, it is a claim which to me is not backed by any statistics. There was a claim that Nigeria has stopped importing rice but just last week, there has been a report of an alleged tonnes of rice being smuggled into the country. So if we were actually producing, that issue of smuggling wouldn’t have come up. I think government should stop propaganda and actually focus on work that international community would appreciate because there is a limit to which one can blow obvious lies that is not on the ground. So I will advise government at local, state and federal levels to focus more on work and stop propaganda that would not take us anywhere and will be raising a false hope.
And because one state is producing rice does not mean that the entire 36 states in the federation is producing rice. It shouldn’t be used as a measure of complete success. Government should encourage local participation in the economy. We have a lot of textile industries that have gone into comatose because of lack of energy and other basic infrastructure. Let government do the talk and walk the walk.
Women empowerment, girl-child education and financial inclusion are still an issue. What effort is CSO making to be the voice of the voiceless?
Well, it is an on-going process which efforts are yielding gradually. During CISLAC side event at the United Nations Commission on the status of women during its 63rd Session held in March in New York, we as a non-for-profit organisation played an important role. We used the gathering to serves as an enabling platform for different stakeholders and international community to interact in proffering holistic solutions to the current trend and challenges confronting adequate, accessible and effective multi-stakeholder approach towards promoting social security for African women. This event is primarily aimed at provoking critical discussions and harnessing potentials for what will ultimately lead to showcasing the plight of the African women to the international community and exploring gender relevant issues to promote social security for women in Africa. It has become continuously imperative to keep the issues of women in general and African women in particular on the front burner of the international discourse.